Stephen McCauley: I grew up outside of Boston and was more or less educated in public schools. I went to the University of Vermont as an undergraduate and studied for a year in France at the University of Nice.
Upon graduation, I worked at hotels, kindergartens (see The Object of My Affection), ice cream stands, and health food stores. I taught yoga in a church basement and set up a house cleaning service. For many years, I worked as a travel agent (see The Easy Way Out) and was able to travel somewhat extensively and inexpensively.
In the 1980's, I moved to Brooklyn. After taking a few writing courses at adult learning centers, I enrolled in the MFA writing program at Columbia University. I’d had a desire to write for a long time, but rarely talked about it, mostly because it seemed like an audacious ambition. Being in graduate school gave me the structure and excuse I needed to begin writing more seriously.
At the suggestion of a teacher, the writer Stephen Koch (who recently published a comprehensive, intelligent, and helpful book on writing: The Modern Library Writers' Workshop) I began working on my first novel. (“Just drop your bucket over the side,” he advised, “and see what comes up.” As for plot, he said: “Not so complicated. Look at Farewell to Arms. Boy meets girl, girl gets pregnant, girl dies, boy walks home in the rain. The end.”)
The first draft of The Object of My Affection was submitted as my thesis for graduation from Columbia. Stephen Koch offered to send it to an agent, and shortly thereafter, it was accepted by Simon and Schuster. The (mostly) positive response to the book was a surprise to me, and it is a great pleasure to have the book still in print and selling pretty well almost twenty-five years later.
I was working at a travel agency when it was published. About six months later, 20th Century Fox bought an option for the film rights, and I left that line of work. I got a job writing book reviews for The Boston Phoenix and was offered my first teaching job at University of Massachusetts in Boston.
Since 1987, I have taught at UMass, Wellesley College, Harvard University, and, most frequently, at Brandeis University.
I’m a pretty slow and self-conscious sort of writer, and despite my best efforts, there’s been a gap of four or five years between each book. The Easy Way Out (1992), The Man of the House (1996), True Enough (2001), Alternatives to Sex (2006), and Insignificant Others (2010). The isolation and self-discipline writing demands doesn’t come easily to me, and so teaching has been a welcome (though time-consuming) part of my work life.
I’ve written book reviews, travel pieces, columns, and articles for a variety of magazines and papers including The New York Times, Travel and Leisure, Vogue, Details, The Washington Post, and many others. I haven’t done much with short fiction, but had a short story published in Harper’s Magazine a while back. It was later anthologized, got an honorable mention in Best American Short Stories, and was read aloud by the actress Vivien Pickles at the Getty Art Museum in Los Angeles. The librettist Mark Campbell is currently writing a libretto based on it for an operatic piece with music by William Bolcom, and I am working with a producer to write a stage adaptation.
My books have done surprisingly well in France, and that part of my career has been an enormous pleasure. Several novels have been bestsellers, I was named a Chevalier in the Order or Arts and Letters, and True Enough was made into a terrific feature film (La Verite Ou Presque) from Films A4 in 2007. It was written and directed by the actor and director Sam Karmann, and has a great cast. Like the film adaptation of The Object of My Affection, it veers off from the novel quite a bit. But the French film kept a lot of my dialogue, which was not the case with Object.
The adaptation of The Object of My Affection shows up on television fairly often, largely, I suspect, due to Jennifer Aniston’s enduring popularity. Over time, I’ve grown more fond of the movie, and find the screenplay (written by the late Wendy Wasserstein) to be moving and far more sturdy than many in the romantic comedy genre.
I’ve begun work on a seventh novel, tentatively titled My Pornographer. It’s very different than my other books, not especially comic, and to be honest, I have no idea if I’ll even be able to finish it. But it’s a pleasure to work on. Additionally, I’m working on a series of novels to be published under a penname. The first will be out in February. Details forthcoming.
When not writing (most of the time, I confess) I’m doing yoga, playing the ukulele, reading student papers or Victorian novels, skiing, ice skating (weather permitting—I hate rinks), biking, or downloading electronic music, new tango, and French pop.